Jobless Claims Total Finally Heads South

September 18, 2003 ( - US job market watchers finally got a positive sign from the government's weekly unemployment claims data with a 29,000 claims drop last week - the largest decline since early spring.

The US Department of Labor (DoL) said 399,000 people queued up for jobless benefits in the week ending September 13, down from a revised 428,000 the week before. T he drop in initial claims was the largest one-week plunge since a 31,000 decrease in the week ended April 5.

The widely monitored four-week moving average rose to 410,750 week from 408,750 the previous week. The average, regarded by economists as a truer reflection of the market because it irons out short-term volatility, has been rising since late August.

However, a particularly ominous storm cloud in the latest jobs picture came in the number of people forced to cling to the unemployment rolls because they still can’t find work. According to the DoL, those still drawing benefits rose 39,000 to 3.68 million in the September 6 week from the preceding week’s revised 3.64 million – the highest since late June. Federal Reserve officials cited the weak job market in their decision on Tuesday to hold rates at 45-year lows (See    Fed: No Rate Action Needed  ).

Also, once again the Wall Street economists participating in Reuters’ regular survey were off the mark, predicting a 410,000 claims total for the September 13 week.

Thursday’s report follows last week’s data showing that claims bumped up 3,000 to 422,000 from the previous week’s revised figure of 419,000 – the highest level since early July (See    A Bad US Job Market Gets Worse ).